Astonishing Ajanta

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We’re off to the Ajanta Caves after taking full advantage of the breakfast buffet (I am loving the dosas, the uttapam and the poha) at the Taj Residency Aurangabad. These deserted Buddhist monasteries were carved out from a horseshoe-shaped cliff in the 2nd century BC, with a second group of cave temples built around 600. As opposed to the cutout magnificence of Ellora — the other UNESCO World Heritage Site nearby — Ajanta is known for its exquisite murals. Every wall, nook and cranny of the first cave we visited was painted with the life and times (including past lives) of the Buddha in discriminating detail.

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The Way Up

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Hike or Hire

...like this Caucasian lady here.

Caucasian Tourist

I would be more scared on the sedan chair, being carried up and down some pretty steep steps. I mean, you could just topple over the ledge, down to the lush, green valley below. There aren’t any more tigers around, so that’s OK.

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The caves are dark. The murals are not brightly lit for you to see on a one-day tour. You’re not meant to see it all within a mere day. It was a monastery, a complex for a community devoted to contemplation, not a magnificently decorated palace for politics and pomp.

Nowadays, we’re inundated with imagery — colour and form, sights and sounds. People forget that in the ancient world, other than the colours provided by Mother Nature, only the rich and those patronized by the powerful got to afford colour.

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He’s on all Ajanta postcards and covers of souvenir books

The intricacy of the interior decoration at Ajanta is not meant to be seen all at once. The murals were the flat screen TVs of that era. A monk’s candle within the darkness of the meditation hall was the on/off switch — a certain episode in Buddha’s life was chosen for the contemplation of the day. To see all the details of the caves (and hear all the stories) in a single day would literally blow your mind.

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Like any sacred space in India, footwear is not allowed inside the caves, which were meditation centres.

I soon found it easier to just go barefoot on the rock-hewn mountain pathways and stone steps the whole time instead of taking my shoes on and off at every cave temple. All the Indian middle school students are doing that. It was absolutely liberating to walk around the entire mountain barefoot, earthing, grounding ourselves, connecting to nature. And modeling.

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Strike a Pose

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Smiling School Girls

More serendipity, Shubhraji bumped into her friend Steve Gorn, a world-renowned classical Indian flutist (who’s featured on her first album of Sanskrit chants “Shloka Mala”)!

What are the odds of that happening? Only when you’re traveling with your guru.

We then sat in a cathedral-like cave, audience to an ethereal improvisational performance on his bansuri (bamboo flute). The security guard for that particular cave, an Indian woman in a beautiful blue sari, enjoyed the impromptu concert as well, but told us that there would be no encore, as music wasn’t allowed. No buts.

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Steve and Shubhraji, with musician Bradford from Brooklyn in the middle.

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Steve’s friend shows us her sketches

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Photobombed at Ajanta

Photobombed at Ajanta

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Retracing Our Steps

Setting sun; stone staircase

Setting Sun and Stone Staircase

I am exhausted mentally and physically from a whole day’s hike. I fall fast asleep after returning to the serene Taj Residency Aurangabad. That’s perfect as we have to leave the lobby at 4am tomorrow for a whole day of moving meditation — an early morning flight back to Mumbai, and then onwards to Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat.

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